British armed forces offered to attempt to rescue nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, but were rebuffed by Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president at the time, the Observer has learned.
In a mission named Operation Turus, the RAF conducted air reconnaissance over northern Nigeria for several months, following the kidnapping of 276 girls from the town of Chibok in April 2014. “The girls were located in the first few weeks of the RAF mission,” a source involved in Operation Turus told the Observer. “We offered to rescue them, but the Nigerian government declined.”
The girls were then tracked by the aircraft as they were dispersed into progressively smaller groups over the following months, the source added.
Chibok is located in Nigeria’s north-eastern Borno state. Today 195 of the girls are still missing. Those who have managed to escape from their kidnappers have told of a life of torture, enslavement, rape, and forced marriages in captivity.
Notes from meetings between UK and Nigerian officials, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, also suggest that Nigeria shunned international offers to rescue the girls. While Nigeria welcomed an aid package and assistance from the US, the UK and France in looking for the girls, it viewed any action to be taken against kidnapping as a “national issue”.
“Nigeria’s intelligence and military services must solve the ultimate problem,” said Jonathan in a meeting with the UK’s then Africa minister, Mark Simmonds, on 15 May 2014.